To those who appreciate honest, down-to-earth Chinese eateries, Xintiandi may seem like a invasive strangler fig vine whose garish brick-wall tendrils seem to probe further and further into the outlying native food streets everyday. But look between the glitz, overpriced pizza, and Din Tai Fung and you’ll find some respectable digs; Xi Na, to name one.
Xi Na is a Hunan spot that essentially commandeered the lower level of the Spanish Villa that houses Finca. The staff, menu, and kitchen are Hunanese but the atmosphere is all white-tablecoths, bouquets, jazz music, and the quiet ambience of a small town art gallery.
Fortunately, neither the villa setting nor Xintiandi’s tackiness bleed into the fare, which is unapologetically Hunanese from the spices, which are imported from Hunan, to the gawping Hunan Double-Pepper Fish Head (68RMB), which bug-eyes you as you plunge your chopsticks in. If you’re a fish head connoisseur, add this guy to your resume. It may not stack up to Guo Yuan or Xiang Quan Xiangcun in terms of bang for your buck (it’s actually quite small for a fish head) but it’s still a classic dish: split down the middle, half-blanketed in red chilies and half in green like some piscine Harvey Dent, bathing in oil, and harboring a smorgasbord of different flavors and textures. Pluck out morsels of meat, swish them around in the sauce, and enjoy.
Also, Xi Na doesn’t succumb to Guo Yuan syndrome, whose non-fish head dishes seem to be simply leeching off the fish head’s celebrity, but rather boasts a worthy backup chorus, including cumin pepper ribs (68RMB) and tofu hotpot (38RMB). The cumin pepper ribs actually compare to Di Shui Dong’s illustrious pork ribs; the meat itself is not quite as tender, but it’s more gilded with fat. The tofu hotpot, labeled ‘hot pot tofu crispy’ on the menu, entails golden tofu blocks coated with delicious chili oil and scattered with fatty bacon and green scallions. A definite must-try.
The drink list is the only part of the menu where the Xintiandi/Villa influence manifests itself. Instead of jumbo bottles of cold draft Tsing Tao, you get those tiny brown baby bottles that you can drain in one sip, for 30RMB each no less. The same goes for Budweiser and Heineken.
Consider Xi Na sworn into Shanghai’s fraternity of quality Hunan joints. It may not bring too much new to the the table as you can find arguably better versions of many of its top dishes at other, cheaper spots. But it’s got a variety of hit dishes, probably the chicest atmosphere of any Hunan restaurant, and a central location. And considering that Xi Na straddles Xintiandi, the prices are a charity drive.
Xi Na – 373 Huangpi Nan Lu, near Xingye Lu, Huangpu district (黄浦区黄陂南路373号, 近兴业路). Tel: (0)21-6386-2898. Hours: 11.30am-11pm daily.
See a complete list of our reviews here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected]m.